"We're celebrating the disintegration of order, reason and rules. I just hope we're not too late."
After a turbulent run in high school, my perspective started to morph from an "us versus them" approach to a more suitable "me versus them", and a desire to have as much fun as possible with it. Jello Biafra had painted himself into a corner, KMFDM had become caricatures of themselves, and even though Atari Teenage Riot could continue to bolster their jack-in-the-box reactionary teenage angst, I was no longer in a mood for catch phrases or campaign slogans of any kind. Before long, I was hanging out in my friend's basement bathroom that he'd converted into a bedroom, watching the mushroom cloud sequence from Dr. Strangelove on repeat, doing excuisite corpses, making pornographic collages, writing for and publishing "dadaist" zines (which also included pornography), and setting random things on fire. It might be cliché in a round-about way, but it sent the ball rolling in a lot of different directions.
Somewhere between boozing and a dangerously escalating case of insomnia, I was shown a copy of Nihilists' Corner, a public access television show, where I took a natural liking to the work of Elisha Shapiro immediately, and I have been following it for over ten years (although he's not terribly prolific, I admit). The rarity of it didn't occur to me at the time, but "Nihilist Industries" offered VHS cassettes exclusively from their obscure website at $25 each or something like that, and they would give a partial refund if you only watched it once and sent it back. Rather than paintings or sculptures, Shapiro's art can be found in the news clippings that result from his various antics. For starters, he kicked things off by organizing a Nihilist Olympics to coincide with Los Angeles' 1984 Summer Olympics. While it might be implicit that the approach was light-hearted and lazy (and rightfully so), these events received coverage from a good sized list of major papers and television sources (including LA Weekly and MTV), complimented by support from numerous art galleries, coffee shops, lingerie stores, and rock 'n roll venues. This dangerous mockery left pedestrians and public officers both miffed and chuckling, and it was just the beginning.
What, you might ask, do Nihilist Olympic games entail? Most notably there was the U-turn contest. People with old, beaten up cars signed up by the dozens to see who can make the best U-turn at a busy intersection, while scraggly, odd-looking characters scribbled numbers onto blank white boards in unicen, judging based on enthusiasm, surely. In the end, a firebird with a distinctive "bat turn" won the contest, but if you ask me, I think the man who calmly hailed a cab and paid its driver $20 to carefully make a U-turn, he should have won. Other facets of the olympics included a Freeway Relay Race, a Johanna Went Projectile Vomiting Competition, The Lazlo Toth Art Defacing Competition, The Rosie Ruiz Marathon, a Decathlon of Housework, and the "Run And Shoot Competition", a "modern abbreviation of the Olympic Pentathlon". Just as the undecorated eight-car Nihilist parade ushered in these events, The Nihilist Arts Festivities wrapped them up, with music, poetry, performance art, rock 'n' roll, and "Fashion Without Rules", where "some of the models wore shards of pottery, scraps of movie film, beach balls and lawn furniture".
Such an axis point for media prankdom merits equal or better sequels, and in this case, it resulted in campaigns for President (1988), LA County Sherriff (1994), and Governer of California (2006) under the "Nihilist Party" ticket, where part of the campaign platforms included California's secession from the United States, a "Government Exchange Program", a "High Speed Chase Lane" on the freeways, a new speed limit of 180 miles per hour, and "no tax breaks for churches, SUVs, or children". Secretary of State: Bob Goldthwait, Press Secretary: Hunter S. Thompson, FBI Chief: Angela Davis. New National Holidays: TV Dinner Day, Automatic Weapon Day, Sodomy Day, and so forth. The World's Fair for Nihilists came in '99, "The Nihilism Expo, A Future Without Rules", pavilions included a "Hall of Flag Burning", "The Wacky World of Belief", "Great Moments In American History" and "Descent Into Hell" (rather than something that Disneyland or Universal Studios might offer). All of this received a considerable amount of press, and a voter turnout that wasn't too shabby for a write-in candidate.
Shapiro's love for mass media absurdity doesn't stop there. Since the early 80s, he has been releasing xerox calendars under loose themes celebrating "Humor", "Globalization", or "Celebrities", and collecting the most ridiculous press clippings that he can find, with headlines such as "Father Accused of Branding Kids", "Eel Crawls Into Man's Penis", "Man Arrested for Teaching Dog to Sieg Heil". Each calendar day is riddled with death dates, funny political happenings, and blatant self promotion. For 16 years, Elisha hosted an (aforementioned) public access cable TV show called "Nihilists' Corner" (and later "Lunatic Fringe" with group debates), where he'd welcomed guests from varied walks of life, with different spiritual backgrounds. In some cases, people gathered for discourse or to compare and contrast various issues; anyone from libertarians, sex priestesses, psychics, odd musicians, mentally ill people, and street artists.
The closest to actual fine art that Elisha Shapiro gets is in his photography. His style is grainy and crude; his subjects include self portraits of himself shaved naked and standing in a desert, or dressed in drag drinking a beer with a gun in the other hand, demolition sites, a "Girl On A Stick" or (to sum things up...) "Guns, Genitals, and TV, the Artist's Favorite Things". He sells prints in limited editions of 10, and his website looks so old that it might as well have some kind of 8 bit musical midi file playing for its introduction. The artist has also expanded to running an annual "Nihilist Film Festival" since 1999 where the off color and offensive is, of course, to be expected, and he's also become a stand up comedian. He makes jokes about how silly religion or spirituality can be, or how most of the hits on his website come from erotically motivated image searches under the term "shaved". For a while, he was running a regular night of "Comedy Versus Art Smackdown" where performance art and um, progressive stand up comedy collided. In his rather young career as a comedian, The Hollywood Fringe Festival hosted Shapiro as "The World's Funniest Nihilist".
Surprisingly (or maybe not), Elisha has held a job as an English teacher at Santa Monica College for over 30 years. He's got a cat named "Buff" (short for Buffy), and he likes The Los Angeles Dodgers, David Letterman, Cal Worthington commercials, The Rolling Stones, and "angry girl punk bands" (especially The Muffs), but not experimental music of any sort. Above is an hour long telephone recording edit of an interview I did with Elisha, and a comedy bit he's been working on.